Trades could be ahead for next year's free agents

White Sox's Frazier, Tigers' J.D. Martinez among members of 2017-18 class who could be on move

Trades could be ahead for next year's free agents

This offseason's free agents are already beginning to find new homes, with players such as Bartolo Colon, Kendrys Morales and Josh Reddick signing deals in the early stages of the Hot Stove season.

Yet several of next offseason's free agents figure to be on the move as well, since players with one year left on their contract make for frequent trade chips. Acquiring such a player allows a team to bolster its roster for the coming season without getting bogged down with a long-term commitment. As long as the trade is completed before Opening Day, rather than during the season, it will fall under the current Collective Bargaining Agreement, which allows for the club to extend a qualifying offer a year from now. However, the CBA expires Dec. 1, meaning the qualifying-offer system could change.

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In the winter of 2014-15, pending free agents like Yoenis Cespedes, Jason Heyward, Jeff Samardzija and Justin Upton were all traded. At least 17 such players were dealt last offseason, including Aroldis Chapman, Jeremy Hellickson, Mark Trumbo and Neil Walker.

This offseason, potential 2017-18 free agents such as Howie Kendrick and Cameron Maybin have already gone down that path. Others (Jake Arrieta, Jonathan Lucroy and Carlos Santana, for example) are slated to play major roles for likely contenders and therefore figure to stay put.

But that still leaves many intriguing players who have one guaranteed year remaining on their contracts and could be involved in trades over the next few months. Here are 10 to watch, listed alphabetically:

Jay Bruce, RF, Mets
New York, which acquired Bruce at the non-waiver Trade Deadline, exercised his $13 million club option after the season. For now, he remains part of the Mets' 2017 plans, but if the club is able to re-sign Cespedes, Bruce could be the odd man out. Bruce's bat went quiet following his trade from Cincinnati, but the left-handed hitter still finished with 33 homers, his sixth time in seven years reaching 25.

MLB Tonight: Mets' 2017 outlook

Zack Cozart, SS, Reds
Coming off a 94-loss season, the Reds have Cozart and Brandon Phillips standing in the way of some young infield talent. Cozart, who was nearly traded to the Mariners at this year's Deadline, would no longer make sense for Seattle in light of its acquisition of Jean Segura, though other clubs could be interested. Cozart has hit .254/.308/.435 with 25 homers and a 4.0 WAR in 174 games over the past two seasons and is due a raise from $2.925 million in arbitration.

Wade Davis, RP, Royals
Kansas City has numerous players in their final guaranteed year, a group that also includes Lorenzo Cain, Danny Duffy, Alcides Escobar, Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas. While the 2015 World Series champions certainly could keep all of them in an attempt to make one more run with their current core, Davis in particular has come up in trade rumors. With a $10 million salary in '17, he would require a much smaller financial commitment than this winter's crop of elite closers, and the Royals could shift Kelvin Herrera into that role.

Danny Espinosa, SS/2B, Nationals
The Nats could go in a lot of different directions this offseason, but one possibility would be to acquire an outfielder and move rookie sensation Trea Turner from center back to his natural position at shortstop. Should that happen, Washington could keep Espinosa as a utility man and insurance policy or deal him to a team that could offer more regular playing time. The switch-hitter has a .302 career on-base percentage and strikes out a ton, but he offers power, speed and solid defense at both middle-infield spots. Espinosa, who is eligible for arbitration, made $2.875 million in 2016.

Todd Frazier, 3B, White Sox
Chris Sale is attracting most of the headlines this offseason, but should the White Sox decide to rebuild, Frazier is another trade possibility, along with fellow contract-year hitter Melky Cabrera. Frazier, who will receive a raise from $8.25 million through arbitration, has slugged .474 with 104 homers and a 12.7 WAR over the past three seasons. He would be a more affordable, short-term alternative to current free agent Justin Turner.

Hot Stove: Todd Frazier

Jaime Garcia, SP, Cardinals
St. Louis exercised the left-hander's $12 million club option despite his spotty health record and subpar 2016 (4.67 ERA). It was a decision that points to both the value of rotation depth and the scarcity of options available on the open market this offseason. For the Cardinals, it wouldn't hurt to keep Garcia for now in case injuries strike the staff this spring. On the other hand, a team with more pressing rotation issues could come along and allow St. Louis to address another need.

Matt Garza, SP, Brewers
Milwaukee is still in rebuilding mode, and Garza will make $12.5 million this year, with an option for 2018. The right-hander has been below replacement-level over the first three years of his contract, and combined with his salary, it's difficult to imagine a robust market. Garza did have a solid finish to '16, however, with a 3.64 ERA over his final 11 starts, and starters are in short supply.

Carlos Gonzalez, RF, Rockies
Both he and fellow outfielder Charlie Blackmon have come up repeatedly in trade rumors, although Colorado, perhaps a darkhorse contender, doesn't necessarily have to move either. One complicating factor is that Gonzalez is owed a hefty $20 million in 2017. Another is that adjusting for Coors Field, his recent production doesn't necessarily match his reputation, with a 111 wRC+ over the past two seasons, which is tied for 63rd among qualified hitters.

CarGo's four-hit game

J.D. Martinez, RF, Tigers
Detroit wasted no time trading Maybin, and more veterans could follow. The club already had conversations with the Giants about Martinez, who will make $11.75 million in the final year of his deal. Since joining the Tigers in 2014, Martinez ranks eighth among qualifiers in slugging (.540) and 13th in wRC+ (143), so any club looking for right-handed power would have plenty of reason to be interested.

Anibal Sanchez, SP, Tigers
Speaking of Detroit, Sanchez is another potential trade chip. Like the other starters on this list, he didn't boost his stock in 2016, but he could be viewed as a buy-low opportunity for a pitching-starved team. Sanchez, who will turn 33 in February, posted a 2.92 ERA from 2013-14 but a 5.42 mark since then. It seems likely that any deal would involve the Tigers eating a chunk of the $21.8 million still owed to Sanchez, including an '18 buyout.

Andrew Simon is a research analyst for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AndrewSimonMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.